The Corporate Immigration Review: Saint Lucia
Introduction to the immigration framework
St Lucia is well known as the island that France and Britain fought over throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, with possession changing 14 times between the two countries. In 1814, the British took definitive control of the island. In 1871, it was integrated into the Windward Islands, achieving home rule only in 1967. St Lucia gained full independence in 1979. Although the country's formal head of state is still the British monarch, the real power lies in the hands of the cabinet approved by the democratically elected parliament. St Lucia is the member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Tourism is St Lucia's main source of jobs and income (accounting for 65 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)) and the island's main source of foreign exchange earnings.2 Agriculture was a dominant sector for decades, specialising in sugar and banana production, but now other industries, such as financial and offshore banking services, manufacturing and beverages are, along with tourism, the major drivers of the economy. There are more visitors to Saint Lucia from the United States than from any other country.
St Lucia, like the other six members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar as its currency. This currency has been pegged to the United States dollar at a rate of EC$2.7 to US$1, which is not subject to fluctuation. In general St Lucia has a very liberal foreign exchange system.
The government of St Lucia strongly encourages foreign direct investment, and has been cited by the US Department of State as operating in a 'generally transparent manner'.3 The country holds 36th position in the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index4 and its legal system is based on British common law.
The official language of St Lucia is English, although St Lucian French or patois is also widely used.
i Legislation and policy
Immigration in St Lucia is regulated by the Immigration and Passport Act.5 Upon entering the country, a visitor is given a maximum of three to six weeks to remain on the island. Prior to the expiration of this deadline, or if the visitor plans to stay longer, a further extension may be granted after an application is made to the Immigration Department.
There are three types of residency in St Lucia: citizenship, permanent residence and the right to reside.6
St Lucia recognizes ius soli or birthright citizenship. Hence, persons born in St Lucia are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children of St Lucian parents (or parent) born outside the country can also apply. Marriage to a citizen of St Lucia and seven years of continuous residence in St Lucia are also considered a legal basis for obtaining citizenship.
St Lucian citizenship can be also acquired through the Citizenship by Investment Programme, regulated by the Citizenship by Investment Act,7 giving foreign national several investment options by which to claim St Lucian citizenship.8 The Act became effective on 1 January 2017.
Permanent residence can be applied for after a period of five years of continuous residence in St Lucia, but this period can be significantly reduced in certain circumstances; however, this status does not confer the right to work in St Lucia.
Foreign nationals wishing to reside in St Lucia should either obtain a work permit prior to arrival or purchase a property there. Work permit holders have the right to reside in the country for the duration of the work contract. Their family members are also granted the right to reside, although without working rights. The acquisition of property by a person other than a citizen of St Lucia requires special permission from the Minister of Legal Affairs, which is granted after the identity and character of the applicant have been ascertained.
Those who have extended their temporary residency for a minimum of two years can apply for permanent residency in the country through an application process at the Ministry of Labour in St Lucia.9
ii The immigration authorities
The Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice and National Security, together with the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour, is in charge of citizenship and residence issues.
The Immigration Department comes under the general policy control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice and National Security, and consists of a body of public officers, including the chief immigration officer and a number of other immigration officers, who guarantee the enactment of government immigration policy.
The Citizenship by Investment Programme is run and supervised by the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CBIU),10 to which Citizenship by Investment Programme applications are submitted. The CBIU is in turn subordinate to the Citizenship by Investment Board.11 After conducting thorough background checks and due diligence, the CBIU makes recommendations to the Board for the issuance of citizenship certificates for foreign investors. The Board meets at least twice per year.
iii Exemptions and favoured industries
Foreign nationals from the countries with which St Lucia has no visa waiver agreement who intend to visit the island for tourism purposes are required to have a valid passport and obtain a St Lucian visa. A single-entry visa for three months' duration costs around US$46, while a multiple-entry visa for one year is priced at around US$70. The process of visa issuance generally takes up to five working days.12 Those seeking to acquire a St Lucian visa should apply to the Immigration Department and fill out the most up-to-date visa application forms.
Persons from those countries with which St Lucia has visa-on-arrival agreements can obtain a visa at the airport when entering the island. Visa applicants are required to provide the following documents: two certified passport-size photographs; a passport that is valid for up to six months; a return ticket to the port of origin; a copy of the applicant's travel itinerary; proof of hotel or private accommodation; a letter of invitation (if invited by a friend or relative).
St Lucia has visa waiver agreements with the following 146 countries and territories around the globe.13
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Vatican City.
Hong Kong (SAR China), Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Uzbekistan; Bangladesh, Cambodia, East Timor, Laos, Macao (SAR China), Maldives and Nepal with visa on arrival; and Pakistan and Sri Lanka with electronic travel authorisation.
Israel and the Palestinian Territories; and Armenia, Iran and Jordan with visa on arrival.
Argentina, Belize, Bermuda, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela; and Bolivia with visa on arrival.
Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and Cape Verde Islands, Comores Island, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, St Helena, Togo and Uganda with visa on arrival.
Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Micronesia, New Caledonia and Niue; and Palau Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu with visa on arrival.
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bonaire, St Eustatius, Saba, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French West Indies, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Maarten, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
The government of St Lucia provides incentives to encourage investment in various sectors by providing tax and non-tax concessions to assist businesses that are able to add value to the economic development of the country. Approval of an enterprise for these incentives is granted by the Cabinet of Ministers upon application.
The Special Development Areas Act14 is aimed at promoting balanced economic development on the island. The legislation provides incentives to approved investors or developers for the creation of certain types of businesses in specially designated areas. The St Lucia free zone is an enclosed area for customs purposes located in Vieux Fort and within 200 metres of the airport and a five-minute drive from the Vieux Fort Sea Port. Goods of foreign origin in this zone may be held pending transhipment and, in some cases, importation into the local market without payment of customs duties. The incentives for a free zone operator include:
- no taxes on dividends for the first 20 years of operation;
- no work permit fees for management personnel of the free zone businesses; and
- no import or export licences.
As beneficiaries of the Caribbean Basin Initiative,15 St Lucians enjoys duty-free access to the United States market for most goods. The United States supports the Saint Lucian government's efforts to expand its economic base and improve the lives of its citizens.16
Companies registered in St Lucia have the right to repatriate all capital, royalties, dividends and profits free of all government taxes or any other charges on foreign exchange transactions, and invoicing of foreign trade transactions may be made in any currency. Importers are not required to make prior deposits and export proceeds do not have to be surrendered to government authorities or to authorised banks.17
Over the years, St Lucia has attracted a number of regional and international brands across the various economic sectors. Through the continued success and re-expansion of these brands, as well as the presence of the Commercial Court, the business climate augers well for the protection of investments. St Lucia has comparative advantages in the areas of regulation, starting a business, market access, incentives, transport infrastructure and quality of life.18
International treaty obligations
As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the OECS Economic Union, St Lucia is allowed to access a market of some 14 million consumers and allows for duty-free export to the member countries of these regional blocs. St Lucia is a participant in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which allows qualifying CARICOM nationals to live and work in any CARICOM state partaking in the free-movement system.19
There are 12 full member countries of CARICOM and CSME: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
St Lucia is a member of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, among other international bodies.
The United States and St Lucia have a cooperative and productive relationship, including in the field of security. Both states share an interest in combating international crime and narcotics trafficking. Because of St Lucia's geographical location, it is an appealing transit point for narcotics traffickers. In response to this threat, St Lucia has concluded various bilateral treaties with the United States, including a maritime law enforcement agreement (subsequently amended to include overflight and order-to-land provisions), a mutual legal assistance treaty and an extradition treaty;20 however, St Lucia does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.
The year in review
St Lucia was forced to shrink its budget for the fiscal year 2020/2021 because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Each budget year in St Lucia ends on 31 March and, on 28 April 2020, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet presented a budget of approximately US$630 billion to Parliament, with a decrease in recurrent revenue of around US$50 million (or 11.8 per cent). The Prime Minister has stated that there will be serious downturn in economic activity.
Overall, in 2019, the island welcomed more than 420,000 stay-over visitors, more than 191,000 of whom were from the United States;21 however, the global coronavirus pandemic will result in dramatically lowered numbers in 2020.
In March 2019, the Citizenship by Investment Act was amended so that applicants who have made a cash investment qualifying under the Act can, after having been granted citizenship by investment, now add a qualifying dependant. This addition must be made within five years of the date of the investor's original application.
To raise funds for crisis management during the coronavirus pandemic, the government hopes to undertake reclassification of Citizenship by Investment Programme revenues, pursuant to the National Development Fund Act. Despite the global virus outbreak and the resulting imposition of lockdowns, the Citizenship by Investment Programme is running and accepting online applications, although authorised intermediary agents are obliged to retain all documentation in a physical form and send this on to the St Lucian authorities via mail upon request.
i Work permits
Persons who are not citizens of St Lucia may not work without first obtaining a work permit. Applications can be obtained from the Labour Relations Department, which currently comes under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development (previously under the former Ministry of Education, Human Resources Development and Labour). Once an individual satisfies the prescribed requirements, a work permit will be issued and this procedure must be repeated every year until the applicant becomes a citizen of St Lucia.
In considering the approval of the application for a work permit, the minister responsible considers the effect of the grant upon employment opportunities open to citizens of St Lucia. Furthermore, the application form requires the employer to state whether the vacancy was advertised locally.
ii Labour market regulation
The government uses the work permit regime to control the resident labour market. Certain sectors are reserved for residents. Thus, for instance, work permits would not be granted for jobs in the small-enterprise sector. It is also expected that positions would be advertised in the local press to ensure that citizens have the opportunity of applying for the jobs. The Labour Relations Department also encourages unemployed citizens to register with that department.
iii Rights and duties of sponsored employees
Work permits are granted in respect of a job with an employer. If an employee changes his or her employment, he or she must apply for a new work permit. The government restricts certain sectors for residents and thus work permits will not be issued for jobs generally associated with the small-enterprise sector.
Investors, skilled migrants and entrepreneurs
i General policy and legislation
The policy of the government of St Lucia is to actively encourage foreign direct investment and, pursuant to the Invest St Lucia Act,22 Invest St Lucia functions as the official government investment promotion agency responsible for stimulating, promoting and facilitating inward investment opportunities for foreign and local investors in some key economic areas. Invest St Lucia provides all investors with the necessary support and facilitation services, and intelligence on local facilities and industry sectors.23
Along with the Invest St Lucia Act, there is a wide framework of incentives provided by the government to attract foreign investors, including: the Trade Rights Act, Aliens Licensing Act, Development Incentives Act, Special Development Area Act, Income Tax Act, Free Zones Act, Tourism Development Act and Fiscal Incentives Act. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is the domestic arbitration body within St Lucia and local courts recognise and enforce arbitral awards; the Arbitration Act of 2001 provides general and specific provisions on relevant rules and procedures.24
ii Citizenship by Investment Programme
St Lucia started the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) at the beginning of 2016, having passed the Citizenship by Investment Act in 2015.
The legislative provisions of the Act allow the government to grant citizenship to any foreign national who qualifies under the policies of the programme. The Act and the regulations passed under it make provision for four paths to acquiring St Lucian citizenship under the CIP:25
- donation of at least US$100,000 to the National Economic Fund;
- purchase of real estate in a government approved project26 with a value of at least US$300,000;
- business investment in St Lucia of at least US$1 million; and
- purchase of government bonds with a value of at least US$500,000.
In May 2020, the government introduced a new interest-free bond option, the Covid-19 Relief Bond, with an investment threshold of US$250,000 for a single applicant and five-year holding period. Furthermore, the government administrative fees for this option have been reduced from US$50,000 to US$30,000, and this only has to be paid after approval. If the application includes one dependant, the required threshold remains the same, although the mandatory holding period increases to six years. If there are up to four dependants in the application the investment holding period can be extended to seven years. This new option will remain in force until 31 December 2020.
Government processing and due diligence fees also apply. Investors of good character and repute can opt to make a contribution to the development of St Lucia and in return are given the opportunity to apply for St Lucia citizenship and passport. Residency is not required for citizenship and generally the process takes around three months. There is no interview during the application process and applicants are not required to demonstrate any managerial experience or language skills. Application should be submitted through authorized agents using forms available online.27 St. Lucia allows dual citizenship and citizenship can be inherited by further generations.
Investors can include dependants in the CIP application, including spouses, children under the age of 26, mentally or physically challenged dependent children, and parents (no matter their age). If an investor chooses the National Economic Fund option and applies together with a spouse, the contribution requirement is US$140,000. For an application for a family of up to four members, the threshold increases to US$150,000. In the application covering a family of four, the fee for additional dependants is reduced to US$15,000 (from the regular fee of US$25,000 for inclusion of a dependant in a CIP application). In May 2020, the government also lowered significantly the registration fee for new babies of its economic citizens, and this now stands at US$500, instead of US$25,000.
Obtaining a second passport through the St Lucia CIP has many benefits, including visa-free travel opportunities to 146 countries globally, such as the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Argentina, the CARICOM countries, South Korea and Hong Kong. CIP citizens of St Lucia and natural born citizens are equal in rights, including the right to vote.
Applicants are required to have a clean criminal record, be in a good health and pass due diligence checks. Furthermore, they should not be included on a sanctioned list or subject to entry restrictions or visa denial in the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States or Canada.
From 2016 to 2019, St Lucia granted citizenship to 625 investors. The top five recipient nationalities were Chinese (106), Syrian (41), Iranian (41), Lebanese (39) and Iraqi (39).28
Outlook and conclusions
The Citizenship by Investment Act underwent important changes in early 2019. These changes finally addressed the long-standing question concerning the post-approval addition of qualifying dependants of the original applicant and the grant of their citizenship under the Act. This change, coupled with projected positive economic growth, particularly in the tourism and construction sectors, was supposed to help the economy grow and raise more foreign direct investment. However, the global coronavirus pandemic has seen many initiatives put on hold. Like many countries around the world, St Lucia imposed a lockdown in March 2020 following the outbreak of disease, with a resultant downturn in economic activity. The IMF has predicted a fall of 2.8 per cent in GDP for St Lucia's economy in 2020.29
1 Sam M Bayat is the senior resident lawyer and Hyam El Hachem is a senior lawyer at Bayat Legal Services. The authors wish to extend special thanks to Jonathan McNamara, an associate at McNamara & Co, Attorneys at Law, who contributed to the ninth edition of this chapter.
3 Diplomacy in Action – US Department of State.
5 Cap. 10.01.
7 Citizenship by Investment Act 2015 No. 14 of 2015 (the Citizenship by Investment Act); https://www.cipsaintlucia.com/files/legislation/Citizenship-by-Investment-Act-No-14-of-2015.pdf.
8 Citizenship by Investment Act, Part III.
10 Citizenship by Investment Act, Part II.
11 Citizenship by Investment Act, Part I.
17 Saint Lucia: Doing Business, Investing in Saint Lucia Guide, Volume 1, page 117, International Business Publications, USA, ISBN 1-5145-2765-0.
22 Invest St Lucia Act No. 14 of 2014; https://www.investstlucia.com/content_manager/documents/download/205.
24 Saint Lucia: Doing Business, Investing in Saint Lucia Guide, Volume 1, page 119, International Business Publications, USA, ISBN 1-5145-2765-0.
26 As at May 2020 there are only two approved developments: the St Lucia Canelles Resort and the Alpina St Lucia Hotel; https://www.cipsaintlucia.com/content_manager/contentPages/view/approved-real-estate-projects.
29 IMF, 'World Economic Outlook: Chapter 1: The Great Lockdown'; https://www.imf.org/~/media/Files/Publications/WEO/2020/April/English/text.ashx?la=en